After the Renaissance religious art was superseded by the art for the one percent of the day, they were fortunate in having better painters than we do. Well being, the good life, what you had, what you wore, how you lived was was celebrated in sumptuous Dutch paintings of the upper classes in the 17th century. In the 18th century, the English set the tone for haughty portraiture of their good life and their wealthy, never to be exceded except by John Singer Sarget in the late 19th century.
Victorian artists era brought home the bacon by painting historical epics, It was not so much what you believed as what the academy, French or English and its patrons wanted to support. They usually ran to giant Greek and historical Roman epics, usually spiced up with distressed naked maidens at slave markets or being dragged away by the villians du jour, the Huns or Vandals. Strangely few of them appeared to have been dressed when these marauders arrived at their doors. WM Turner was an anomaly and a harbinger of the artist either as an independent thinker or out on a limb, depending on your viewpoint. Manet and Cezanne for the most part ignored historical painting and the impressionists found their gods in light and color. After World War One, point of view and beliefs were in free fall, they still are.
However it is 2016 yet many contemporary classical realists for better or worse are still painting as if it was 1864. The only commissions in reality are fat bankers, rapacious CEO's, stock brokers, dreary University heads and so on, their wives, some lovely, some not so much. There are course their children- predictably depicted in traditional clothing and white dresses. A depressing thought. I have done them .All subjects today are photographed and the pictures chosen by the client who knows what's what only because they are paying the bill. I know I seem (am) harsh when it comes to commissioned portraits, They are a genuine and honorable way to make a living, but for some reason contemporary portraiture cannot compete with the paintings of Titian, Rembrandt, Goya ,Velasquez and Sargent to name a few. I think that this has to do with the modern acceptance of the photograph as the real truth of appearances ( John Berger) and copying them instead really looking at the ever changing visage of a subject. It is hard work. The photo never moves and you can project or trace it- common practices. Why spend hours when your client is only interested in a oil painted version of it anyway. A few heroic painters like Steven Assael, luminous Nelson Shanks and the surprising and charming Tom Root http://www.tomrootartist.com / manage to paint compelling images from life. It has cecome more of a craft than an art.There are a few painters that do religious commissions but somehow they have not produced any art with the gravitas,beauty and power of the great Renaissance painters like Titian, Botticelli, Raphael etc.- they look more like illustrations for bible stories.
|Sunroom Tom Root|
If you are able to leave those bill paying traps behind there still is the problem of what exactly to paint. and to paint what moves you. Indeed. If you have no hand of God guiding you and you have decide to wear the beret of the 'pure'- "The Fine Artist" you will be left out on an ice floe more dangerous than the ones in the early silent movies. Figurative, Abstract, neo- Expressionism, Impressionism, Brutalism- I can't go futher because a have not kept a list of all the isms that are au-courant. Many of them are simply silly and fatuous invented by those as a loin cloth to cover their artistic ineptitude and impress the critics. You must have an ism. Really!? What ism? Has 'ism" replaced religion or God. What in the hell to be or paint? Is "ism" your painting identity?
So,stranded and alone in your studio, room, garage, garret, corner of a room, grasping your brushes you have decided to paint what you, gasp! love. Wrong- or so many will tell you. You should be discouraged. Yes! you should. We have a glut of artists. tens of thousands graduate every year from universities, art schools, ateliers and online courses burdened with obscene school loan debt. Many will not survive, many are inept, many will learn how to game the system and worshipping the God of money and the art CEO flattery will make fortunes.
OK the what do I love? What do I do? What do I believe in?
I can only talk for myself. I cannot imagine at anytime in my life not doing, breathing and thinking about art, all day long and into the night. I cannot be Kathe Kollwitz, Manet, Euan Uglow, Matisse, Picasso. I can only do what I can do no matter what precarious branch I step out on. My work is sometime frivolous- it is what it is. I believe in beauty. I love beauty. It is a force. It is the only reason for me to paint. It is hard work, heartbreaking work. My first husband, Eugene Tonoff said that "Art isn't for sissies".
Odilon Redon's complicated beliefs infused his art. Here is an excerpt of Amanda F. Rookes essay
|Opehelia amomg the Flowers Odlon Redon|
It is beauty that moves me.
Here are some quotes on beauty and aesthetics from Robert Grudin's beautiful book.
"The Grace of Great Things- Creativity and Innovation'
The book, is sadly out of print but you can get used copies at Amazon or used book stores.
"Excellence of mind itself, rightly conceived, is expertise in beauty; creativity is wise love."
"What liberates the imagination is the sense that work in its theory and practice holds aesthetic possibilities, that jobs can be elegantly conceived and gracefully done. This sense of beauty unlocks feelings of pleasure and love and breaks down the barrier between worker and work and commit to work not merely the "thinking" consciousness but the full resources of mind."